✧Perfectly Brilliant Light✧
*Click For Audio Drama*
“How are you doing, Claudine?” asked Countess Brandt in a hesitant voice, her red-rimmed eyes looking at her carefully. The maid who’d been serving them immediately dropped her gaze to the floor, recognizing this moment to be a private affair between her mistresses.
This time between them was a tenuous moment.
“It’s…” Claudine began to speak up softly, before trailing off, a far-away look in her eyes. “It’s a difficult time, but I have to endure it well.” She diplomatically answered, nodding tersely as though she was trying to convince herself to do so.
“That’s right. We should all do that.” Her mother interjected, also preoccupied with her thoughts and feelings to notice just how broken their daughter had turned out to be in the latest news that befell them.
The war might as well have dropped a bomb on their house.
“Well then, make sure you are eating.” Her mother added, patting her on the hand absentmindedly, “Think of what he would want for you.” She commanded offhandedly, before breaking down into more sobs.
Recognizing the order for what it was, the maid hastily excused herself to prepare them a meal, despite the knowledge that Lady Claudine wouldn’t touch a single food that would be prepared. Still, she needed to make sure her Lady would have something to eat to keep her strength up for these difficult times.
After hastily preparing easy-to-eat foods, she immediately went back up to her Lady’s room, and softly knocked on the closed door.
“My Lady, I have brought you something to eat and drink.” She announced, when no answer came, she knocked again. “My Lady?”
A beat of silence came before a loud wail began to erupt inside the room! Worried about her mistress’ well-being, she burst through the door to come to her aid!
“Oh, my Lady!” she fretted almost immediately, the tray in her hands dropped in her haste and spilling its contents on the floor!
Crouched pathetically in a fetal position, still in her sleeping gown and hair loose and barefoot, laid her mistress, Lady Claudine, sobbing her heart out, a letter clutched tight against her breasts as though she was trying to merge with it.
“Leave me alone!” she demanded upon the sight of her maid, her eyes turned into a sharp glare almost immediately but lost some of their intimidation at the tears that persisted to escape from them. Mary sharply halted in her steps, appearing to hesitate in obeying her mistress’ wishes.
She can’t possibly let her mistress wallow in her sorrow alone.
“Out! Get out, Mary!” She screamed, tears still pouring out of her.
Mary wanted to protest.
“Please…” she begged, softly this time as she sobbed, “Please just leave.” She pleaded before she went back to curling on her room’s floor, hugging the letter back to her chest.
The protest left the maid’s heart in a quick second at the sight of her broken-up mistress. She thought that Lady Claudine could remain graceful in her grief, but she too was just human. And when a loved one dies, no amount of grace can hide the pain one truly felt in their passing.
Deciding to finally give her some space, Mary softly closed the door behind her to leave her mistress alone for now.
Even as she closed the door behind her, Claudine’s cries echoed ominously throughout the empty corridor as she cleaned up the dropped tray of food before leaving.
Claudine, for her part, could barely remember why she ended up crying on the floor so pathetically. As soon as her mother had taken leave, she opened up the last letter and read it. She was just reading the letter. Yet after the sleepless night she had, and when the morning sun rose to a new day, she found herself weak, and unable to bring herself to even rise from where she laid catatonically.
The only thing that convinced her was the sight of his unopened letter.
She needed to read his last letter. And so with shaky hands and a broken heart, she opened the last letter she would ever get from him.
[I love you, Claudine.]
A phrase he’d penned her multiple times, in every letter since the war happened.
[I know how afraid you are, what you’re afraid of. And I cannot promise you that it won’t come true, because, in reality, I’m no miracle worker like Matthias. But I have to believe that whatever hardships may come our way, we will endure because of my love for you. I’ll shoulder everything you’re afraid to face, my love, because that’s just how much I want to be with you. I plan to drown out all your problems with my love alone, if only you’ll have me.]
He’d promised her a million times he’d return. Promised how his love for her would make him endure the war.
And now he’s dead, and she’d yet to give him her millions of confessions in return.
The obituary in the newspaper brought by the Countess belonged to Marquis Lindman, not Duke Herhardt. News of Riette’s was listed along with many others and arrived just as his last love letter did. There was another unexpected air raid, the paper had announced, and this time, they targeted the rear units, which were largely undermanned.
The rear unit was caught so unprepared, housing most of the army’s patients, that Riette had been counted along with the many casualties to be shot and killed in action.
“He’s not dead… he’s not…” She muttered absently under her breath, the letter clutched tightly in her palms.
Another night came, and then another day rose, still, Claudine found herself unable to part with the letter, still huddled pathetically on the floor, sobbing wildly in grief and mourning.
How long has it been? A day? Two?
Did it even matter anymore?
She supposed it didn’t.
What was the point in trying to live such a miserable life anyway? Even he, who wrote her such enthusiastic love letters, ended up dying alone and far away from home.
She wished to read a different man’s death, and wished for Riette to return. And yet had always been cruel to her, because her Riette was now dead, and she dreads to see the Duke’s return home.
Just when she was ready to say she loved him too.
He was ripped away from her before he could even call himself hers.
“I love you… I love you… I love you…” She repeated like a mantra, the light gone from her eyes, yet her tears far from stopping.
There was so much she needed to say, so much to apologize to him for…
And now she’d never be able to say it.
Of all people, why did he have to die?
“I love you.”
The more she re-read the letter, the more the emptiness in her heart threatened to overwhelm her. The line of him declaring his love for her kept flashing back and forth in front of her, she had to let it go.
But the moment she did, she found herself unable to breathe a moment more, her chest tightening so painfully, she reached out for it in a panic, that she fell from her chair!
The threat of a sob began to escape from her, and as soon as her fingers brushed upon the edge of the paper, she gripped it tight and brought it down to her chest, and gave in to the overwhelming despair swallowing her whole!
The only warmth in her stemmed from the flimsy paper in her grip. Just ink and paper were all she had left of him. Like his touch still lingered on the letter, she wanted to will him back to life, to be back with her…
Close to touching…
Close to confessing…
Memories of his fading voice and laughter only made her scramble around to keep him tightly anchored to her.
Wound up so tightly, she felt something in her break…
Ah, so this was how it was.
This was how it was to be truly heartbroken.
And when something is broken, nothing will ever be the same again.
“I love you,” she repeated, her hopeless plea carried off by the silence, unable to reach its recipient.
How cruel fate was to her, that the world should keep turning when hers had just ended before it had even begun.
The memory that remained buried deep within his heart served as Matthias motivation to survive, his sole raison d’etre. Like the beautiful golden wings of a butterfly fluttering in this solemn gray world, it illuminates this painful and arduous path of his to the place where he needs to return, back to that place where he truly belongs.
He slowly opened his closed eyes, staggering for a bit as he tried to stand up. The afternoon sun seemed to be teasing his eyes with its bright, irritating ray of light. A fellow soldier, who had been by his side shooting at the enemy a while ago, was now covered in blood; their unmoving body had collapsed on the cold, hard ground. The dark-red blood flowing from the corpse’s fragmented head and chest caused by the artillery shell wetted Matthias’ military boots. If he was the one who stood in front of the window just now, he would have been the one who was now lying there as a shattered, cold corpse.
Life and death are always just a split second apart, isn’t it?
Did Riette also feel the same way before his life trickled away like grains of sand in the wind?
Did he expect that he would die before Matthias?
For a moment, the dead comrade’s face shifted into Riette’s, before returning back to its real face.
After exhaling deeply, Matthias picked up his gun lying on the floor and turned around. Another shell flew in with a rumbling sound which shook the stone walls around him, hinting its imminent collapse. He, however, persistently continued on his way, completely ignoring the danger surrounding him.
Unlike the information he had received from the intelligence reports, the enemy commenced their attacks in broad daylight in an attempt to recapture the city occupied by Berg a few weeks ago. The city possessed a junction where three railroads intersect making it a key point of supply; which meant that it was a place where multiple fierce battles were bound to take place.
With a shout that couldn’t escape from his mouth, an enemy soldier completely fell down without even knowing how he died.
Matthias stepped out behind a pillar located opposite to the now lifeless body of the enemy who couldn’t even utter a single scream before his life was extinguished. He proceeded to stand behind a nearby wall, the warm rays of the sun together with a gust of cold wind wrapped around his tired body. The wall on the other side was already half collapsed by the enemy’s artillery fire and the wall where he stood behind would face the same fate soon.
When they had difficulties breaking through the enemy’s defensive line, the army would resort to breaking down all the small-scaled walls to enter the opposite side’s territory. Doing so reduces the enemy’s defensive structures and lessens any potential threat of ambush. He was well aware of such tactics since it was one of the most common strategies that the Berg army would use when advancing on enemy’s territories.
However, Ettar’s participation changed many parts of the battlefield.
Initially, the Confederate forces had been powerless since they didn’t possess a mortar that could break down the castle’s thick wall. But, thanks to the weapons provided by Ettar, they were now attacking vigorously with weapons that could even rival Berg’s and implementing the same tactics that Berg used without hesitation.
“Retreat! Retreat!” A desperate command to retreat was ordered to the troops, who were deployed to defend the wall, rang out accompanied by the unending sound of gunshots.
He found it a little ridiculous that they finally issued such a command after half of their troops were already dead. If it had been ordered at least an hour ago, then perhaps more people would have listened and survived from this unexpected ordeal.
Matthias, with a mirthless smirk on his lips, hurriedly moved towards his destination. If only he could, he would have run with all his might but his injured body prevented him from doing so.
‘Did I get hurt?’
He tried to remember, but he couldn’t recall any instance where he could have sustained any injuries. His dizzy head was also still reeling from the recent explosion that their troops had just experienced, inhibiting his mind from thinking too deeply.
In the end, their commander failed to properly grasp the enemy’s firepower. Just a while ago, their side firmly believed that their enemy was not reckless enough to continue deploying their troops to attack the defensive wall. Thanks to this firm belief, they became the perfect candidates for betrayal, to turn one’s allies into rats trapped in poison and dedicate them to the enemies. However, it was difficult to fully put the blame on the commander’s shoulder since no one had expected the Confederation to be in possession of the same weapons as Berg’s; not until the Lovita army fired the first mortar.
As his vision started to blur once more, the beautiful wings appeared in front of him again; fluttering mesmerizingly amidst the chaotic scene.
Ever since the day he had left, Matthias had always seen the golden wings in his vicinity as if it was his guardian angel. Thanks to this, he still firmly believed that there was still a chance to successfully counterattack and turn this hopeless situation around despite their armiy’s complete disastrous defeat. He was convinced that he was still alive thanks to his lovely little bird waiting for him back home.
“Leyla.” With his smiling lips, Matthias uttered his beloved’s name sweetly. Just saying her name filled his being with sweetness enough to drown his whole being
The time to blink his eyes was getting longer and his urgent movements changed slowly to a pace similar to a person enjoying a leisure walk. As soon as he became aware of his sluggish body, Matthias’ tired body immediately fell flat on the sun-heated stone floor like a doll whose strings were suddenly cut off.
He struggled to keep his drowsy eyes open and finally noticed the path where he came from. Dark-red streaks flowed on the rubbled walls and destroyed paths which he had passed. It took him a few more blinks to realize that it was actually his blood.
It was his blood, it was him that left those bloodied traces….
The blood flowing from his left shoulder, perhaps due to an embedded shell fragment, had now completely soaked half of his military uniform. Spilling this much blood would be deemed a serious injury, but his muddled brain couldn’t even perceive any pain, much alone comprehend he’d lost so much blood until the critical moment. Fully comprehending his current situation, his throat let out a short and sudden voice.
It was a giggle mixed with his ragged breath, ironically laughing at his current situation. He was fully aware how bad this turn of events was and its potential end result; his death.
He leaned his battered body against the railing and gave his all to keep ahold of his slipping consciousness; the smell of rusted iron began to intermingle with his breath. His hand, which grabbed his hair like he was trying to tear his head off, gained more strength as he continued to inflict pain upon himself.
He relentlessly commanded his muddled brain while pulling his hair harder. However, even after doing so, his eyelids only felt heavier with every passing second. The sound of the mortar, which should have been close to where he was, felt like a faint noise that came from a distant place.
He wanted to fall asleep for a second, to just take a quick rest. He would just let his body recover for a bit, then he could finally get up and continue once again.
“Leyla. To you. I’ll be back, I promised. So.. just for a bit…….”
‘FUCKING WAKE UP NOW!!!’
By the time his eyes were almost closed, Matthias caught a glimpse of a ribbon fluttering in front of him. It was the same ribbon that Leyla had put around his wrist, his talisman that protected him without fail since that day.
When Leyla’s image of tying colored threads together while searching for various bird nests in the forests and rivers of Arvis came to his mind, his lips, which were shut in a flat line, let out a genuine and lighthearted laugh full of joy. She always enjoyed seeing the birds return back to their nests and she would always become happy and be filled with overwhelming joy once she saw those birds.
She was so unlike him…
She’s….a lonely kid….
He stared at the fluttering ribbon with blank eyes. He thought of her life full of loved ones who once left, but never ever returned back to her lonely self that was waiting earnestly.
He now finally fully understood.
The reason why Leyla loved Arvis’ migratory birds so dearly.
With his voice also gone, Matthias whispered his beloved’s name with quivering lips.
He promised her,
He said he will definitely return.
Leyla said she believes him and will wait for him…’
And he would give his all to fulfill his promise, no matter what cost.
‘I have to go back, I need to go back. I must!!’
He stubbornly lifted his injured body, biting his lips hard to the point of bleeding. Even with his hazy consciousness, the sound of artillery fire penetrated his mind continuously.
He began to walk once again towards the wall where dust clouds rose and broken bricks were rolling around. His legs were twisted together and his body stumbled repeatedly, but he never showed any signs of stopping on his path. Taking a few shaky steps after he just got up, he , in the end, collapsed once again.
Matthias supported himself against the stone floor with his blood-soaked hands. A slight giggle erupted after taking a few rough breaths. When he opened his closed eyes that he hadn’t realized were squeezed shut, his vision blurred by fatigue became a little bit clearer.
‘Just one more time….’
‘Get up… one more time…’
Whenever he blinked and tried to focus his dazed eyes, tears continuously flowed down from his eyes, flowing down towards his chin and dripping at the back of his wet hand. Each drop felt hotter than the last, stimulating his muddled brain bit by bit. Finding his dire situation amusing, Matthias repeatedly let out a dry laugh; his breath accompanied by a thicker stench of blood.
‘You have to live!’
He repeatedly whispered to himself quietly.
‘Leyla, for Leyla, you have to live!’
He had to live because she was still waiting for him.
It took him more time than before to finally be able to support his body and in the end, he finally managed to get up once again. After rubbing down his wet face, he straightened his back and began to move forward, taking a step after step. His bloody eyes were now half closed from exhaustion, but Matthias never stopped walking.
He had to go.
Even if he would also become someone who had failed to return back to his lonely bird’s life.
He needed to keep his promise till the bitter end.
He wanted to be forgiven.
He wanted to return to the place where Leyla was, to stand beside her. To that place where they could start once again with their love for each other, where their love story would begin and unravel through thick and thin.
Matthias moved quickly with renewed vigor when he finally caught a glimpse of the stairs below the wall. At the moment when his foot just stepped at the stairs, the mortar’s shrapnels, which battered the solid wall one after another, finally broke through the wall accompanied by a loud explosion!
In the collapsing world, he caught a glimpse of the brilliant golden wings fluttering in the wind.
He smiled as he hummed that lovely name.
This was the last sight that was burned to his memory before everything went black.
News of the battle in the city of Lovita was not delivered to Berg until a few days later.
The newspaper, which featured a shot of Duke Herhardt draped in an officer’s uniform on the front page began to spread rapidly throughout the streets a day before the New Year.